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These deaf and disabled creators are saying no to ‘inspiration porn’

C Talent is elevating overlooked entertainers to new heights, and educating brands and companies on working with deaf and disabled talent.

These deaf and disabled creators are saying no to ‘inspiration porn’
[Photo: Abigail Gordon]

Listen to the latest episode of Fast Company’s Creative Control podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one billion people around the world are living with a disability. It’s not an insignificant number, but the vast majority of people in that demographic still don’t feel seen.

It’s something Keely Cat-Wells set out to fix with C Talent.

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C Talent is a talent management and consultancy agency working with deaf and disabled entertainers. As someone living with a disability, Keely wanted to make navigating the creator economy and Hollywood more equitable and inclusive—and she’s doing just that at a high level by placing talent in projects from such major brands as Disney, Nike, Tiffany & Co., and Savage X Fenty. Cat-Wells’ mission has been amplified even further with influencer-marketing company Whaler acquiring C Talent.

Keeley Cat-Wells [Photo: Abigail Gordon]
“Oftentimes, disabled talent will come to us, and they’ll have kind of small goals. They won’t be huge because they’re so used to, unfortunately, living in a society where things aren’t achievable just because of the barriers that we face and the attitudinal barriers that exist,” Cat-Wells says on an episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Control. “So we really want to work with our talent to achieve big, huge damn things and get them huge work and get disabled talent paid and create superstars who just so happen to be disabled.”

Among C Talent’s roster of influencers are Cole and Charisma Sydnor, an interabled couple who began posting YouTube vlogs of their daily life four years ago. As their channel grew, one of their biggest struggles was finding adequate management.

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“It’s funny because we were like, ‘It would be great if there was a talent agency that only had disabled talent on their roster,'” says Cole.

They decided that they “need to make this talent agency—it doesn’t exist,” adds Charisma. “And literally two weeks later we got this email [from C Talent].”

In this episode, hear how C Talent is elevating deaf and disabled creators where brands were falling short, and how creators like Cole and Charisma are thinking about the dreaded “inspiration porn.”

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An education-first approach

Keely Cat-Wells: “One thing that we always said when we first started was the foundation of our work is outreach. We want to educate companies, work with brands, work with production companies, and help them understand why they have to include disabled people—not just in their disability-specific campaigns or their disability-specific work, but in every single thing that they produce and they create. We also strongly believe that it’s not on our creators. It’s not on our talent to have to educate the companies that they work with on accessibility and disability. That should fall on their management. That should fall on their representatives. We didn’t see that being done anywhere because people just don’t understand disability. The oppressed shouldn’t educate the oppressor.  These brands and these companies, I don’t think they go out there and they’re like, We are gonna purposely reinforce these negative stereotypes and stigmas, but they unfortunately do.”

Walking the line of being “inspirational”

Charisma Sydnor: “I think that’s really tricky talking about inspirational porn and being an inspiration because, just showing our lives, I think people draw the inspiration. But we try our best not to be inspirational porn. It’s just such a hard balance sometimes, especially at the beginning, because our most popular video was Cole walking in the exoskeleton, giving me a standing hug. A lot of people love that, because it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, he got out of his wheelchair. He can stand again. He can give her a standing hug.’ The goal of that exoskeleton is really for workout purposes because it’s good for Cole’s bone health to stretch his body and all these different things. But people only saw the fact that we’re giving each other a standing hug and that he’s walking again, and only enjoyed that content for that purpose and not the educational purpose.”

Cole Sydnor: “It’s good for my mental health as well. I just enjoy doing that. So it’s something that we wanted to share, and then all of a sudden in the comment section it was all, ‘Oh, you’re gonna walk again one day. This is so inspirational. Oh, I’m sure Charisma loved that so much.’ And she did. But, I mean, she loves our sitting hugs, too. We have never intended to create inspiration porn. And I hope that that isn’t how it comes across because that’s not our goal. Our goal is to just share our lives and hopefully educate some people as well; and just spread positive vibes.”

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With representation comes opportunity

Cole: “Our community is pretty awesome. I feel like what’s been lacking is just opportunity. Open the door for us, and we’ll bust through it, and we’ll do a darn good job, and we’ll do good for your company. So I’m just so excited to see more opportunities—not just for us, but for the whole disabled community. Hopefully that just spreads [to] more people out there who are thinking about being a creator, but think, Oh, my disability is limiting me. No, I want them to get out there, too, and join us. Let’s get as much representation as possible because that’s what we need. We need representation and we need opportunity.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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